Updating our ways of knowing (Part 4): The journey of unfolding consciousness—Integral consciousness

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The final part of a multi-part article about Integral consciousness.

In this post I will do my best to point to aspects of the Integral consciousness structure which is constellating ever more clearly in humanity’s species mind in our epoch. My intention in writing this series has been to offer a more nuanced understanding of the fact that humanity has not always ‘thought’ in the way we do today; has not always experienced reality through the perspective of an egoic sense of self, with all that entails.

It is very difficult to talk about Integral consciousness when one can only vaguely sense its stirrings as an awakening ‘structure’ within one’s own experience. I am constantly astonished by how the way I use the English language is grounded in spatial metaphors—surely a hallmark of mental-rational consciousness. So I wish to confess up front (notice: spatial metaphor!) that I will not succeed at unfolding a vista of Integral consciousness for you in this post. The best I can do is flag some of the characteristics that Gebser identified, that seem to show up also in my own experience, and are hinted at in some of our experiences with practicing Collective Alchemy.

To be sure, the dominant mental-rational structure of consciousness is like quicksand that mires our thought processes so thoroughly that we can barely manage to articulate any of what we might apprehend in our fleeting moments of Integral consciousness without falling back into the old habitual ways of thinking about and making sense of our experience. This is compounded by the temptation to feel threatened by our inability to ‘comprehend’ what we are experiencing. Certainly, this new structure of consciousness seems positively supernatural when experienced through the filters of our current habituated consciousness, and indeed it actually does transcend and supersede the old reality. This leaves us in a quandary: if we try to adapt or assimilate the new into the old, we violate its integrity and verity. In Gebser’s words, to avoid this pitfall, we need to find ways of “allowing the new to stand out in its originality against the old background.”

Transcending and integrating

Gebser described Integral consciousness as an integrating type of consciousness that transcends the inherent limitations of the preceding structures—which nevertheless remain present within the totality that constitutes our consciousness today. This new consciousness apprehends more of the wholeness of reality than previous structures could. This is partly because it can both apprehend the world through those structures and discern the structures themselves within its integrating embrace.

I cannot bring myself to assume, as Gebser and other great thinkers who have explored the evolution of consciousness in the past, seem to have done, that this newly emerging structure is the Omega point of consciousness, that there can be nothing beyond how Integral consciousness apprehends the world.

One definition given by Gebser of Integral consciousness is “a consciousness of the whole, an integral consciousness encompassing all time and embracing both man’s distant past and his approaching future as a living present.” Key to this is “a constant opening up in many directions and to many dimensions, from a present sense of aliveness in ‘this is what is,’ to the possible next unfoldings immanent in every moment-of-now.”

Characteristics of Integral consciousness

I would like to unpack some of the characteristics that Gebser ascribed to Integral consciousness—as well as some of the features that we ourselves recognised from our Collective Alchemy action research— as a way of differentiating it from our habitual mode of thinking.

Some of the characteristics of the mental-rational structure of consciousness will also become clearer in this process, and this will hopefully help us start pulling ourselves free of our embeddedness in the deficient and superseded structure, much the way Magic Man pulled himself free from his embeddedness in nature.

One of the reasons why it is so difficult to talk about this stuff is because our language has grown out of earlier consciousness structures, and so we have to address Integral consciousness in terms that are not native to it. I am indebted to Georg Feuerstein for his glossary of Gebser’s terms, which has given me just enough courage to embark on this explanation. My apologies for the strangeness of some of the language – we just don’t yet have words for this way of perceiving reality.

Integral consciousness is ego-free.

The ego—the acute sense of separateness and individuation within which our waking consciousness is encysted—is characteristic of the mental-rational structure of consciousness. It is the point of origin of the directional or perspectival (i.e. spatialised) thinking through which our mental-rational self relates to the world. The earlier and less complex structures of consciousness lack the ego phenomenon, though each is associated with a more or less diffuse self-sense.

With the emergent Integral structure, the egocentricity of the mental structure is superseded by ego-freedom. The ego is not obliterated; it continues to exist but it is transcended: we can now see and sense it from a vaster consciousness of which it is part. Ego-freedom is neither a relapse into the egolessness, or pre-egoic mode, of the earlier structures, nor is it a mere reactive negation of the egocentricity of the mental structure. Rather, ego-freedom unfolds out of, and integrates, all other forms of relationship between self and the world.

The light of Origin shines through Integral consciousness

The ever-present reality, or Origin (introduced in part 1), is by nature ‘divine’ (pertaining to the supreme or ultimate reality) and ‘spiritual’ (imbued with the intensely luminous presence of Origin).

Origin’s unfolding in space and time is apparent in the different structures of consciousness. Each structure is both enriched by access to a new dimension of reality, and further removed from the nourishing and luminous ground of Origin. With the Integral structure, when the mature ego is transcended, Origin becomes directly accessible, rendered for the first time transparent to the wakeful consciousness.

This originary presence transcends all structures of consciousness but can be ‘awared’ (‘seen through’ – cognate with wahr, the German for true, and the verb associated with verition (also introduced in part 1)) in the Integral structure. According to Gebser, Integral consciousness truly sees the whole by rendering all previous structures conscious and transparent, so that each structure can be lived harmoniously (meaning that the deficient mode of each can be overcome—more on this, perhaps, in a future post!).

This process of integration of the previous structures is also a process of ‘concretion’, whereby the originary spiritual is not only intuited (magic), felt (mythical) or conceptualised (mental), but also concretely perceived.

Gebser uses the term ‘diaphanous’ (from the Greek for ‘transparent’), to describe the essential quality of Integral consciousness. The diaphainon is that which ‘shines through’— namely the ever-present spiritual origin. With the Integral structure, this diaphainon becomes visible to the ego-transcending consciousness, rendering self and world transparent as the luminous originary presence coalesces with consciousness.

Diaphany

Integral consciousness is arational, aperspectival, acategorical, aspatial, atemporal…

First a word about the meaning of the prefix a- as it is used here (with another apology for making you work so hard!) It is derived from the Greek and carries the connotation of liberating the word it is associated with from either affirmation or negation or the state preceding both. For example, when associated with the word ‘perspectival’, it expresses a process of liberation from the exclusive validity of perspectival and unperspectival, as well as pre-perspectival, limitations.

  • Arational — the rational consciousness is a one-sided development of the mental structure of consciousness. Far from being the apex of human evolution, it is essentially deficient and founded in a particularly virulent distortion of reality. The Integral consciousness, in which the fixed position of the ego is transcended, is arational in that it goes beyond the dualistic conception of the world and thus beyond mere reason and its linear perspective.

  • Aperspectival — the discovery of perspective in art is associated with the European Renaissance, coinciding with the emergence of the rational structure of consciousness. Mental-rational consciousness is associated with an intensified awareness of space, to the extent that thinking becomes spatialised, and thus intrinsically perspectival. Relating to the world through perspective expresses a highly crystallised form of ego-consciousness, where the ego is the point of origin of one’s conceptualisation of the world. The Integral consciousness, however, is ego-free (not merely egoless) and hence also aperspectival, i.e not transfixed in partial viewpoints.

  • Acategorical — thinking in terms of categories, particularly the categories of ‘space’ and ‘time’, also belongs to the mental-rational structure of consciousness, which experiences by conceptualising reality through dualistic filters (self-other, good-bad, right-wrong, body-mind), and approaching reality (including time) through spatial metaphors (up-down, in-out, forward-backward…). These metaphors lend themselves to systematic categorisation on the basis of Aristotelian logic. The Integral perception (or ‘verition’) transcends all categories, encountering reality in its immediacy and ‘thusness’ without relying on names and labels to make sense of experience.

  • Aspatial and atemporal — Each structure of consciousness has its own way of experiencing time. The particular form of time apprehension in the mental-rational structure is temporality, whereby time is conceptualised (spatialised) as an arrow, moving away from the past and towards the future. Both the ever-present Origin, or whole, and Integral consciousness (which consciously participates in the Origin) transcend (rather than merely lacking) experienced and conceptualised space and time, in other words they are aspatial and atemporal.

Integral Consciousness is time-free

We have seen that each of the previous structural mutations opened up a further dimension in human consciousness. The dimension which is concretely (not abstractly) gained with Integral consciousness is time, which is freed from the spatialised conception of linear time achieved by mental-rational consciousness. Accordingly, the symbol Gebser chooses to represent the integral structure is also in motion: the transparent, moving sphere. A very specific hallmark of Integral consciousness, then, is time-freedom. This is a freedom to relate to time in terms of its qualities, as experienced by magical and mythical consciousness, as well as its quantities (direction, speed, duration), indeed even to dwell consciously in the timelessness inherent in archaic consciousness.

Our own experience of Integral consciousness

In our own experience of practicing Collective Alchemy, we have identified certain features of Integral consciousness. We have written about some of this in Part V of the Practice Guide, and the rest of this part is adapted from that.

Access to features of the prior modes of consciousness (archaic, magic, mythic and mental-rational structures) in the experiential here and now. Specifically:

  • working with energetic resonance (archaic)

  • working with will, intention and manifestation (magical)

  • intentionally attending to archetypal aspects and soul work—e.g. Working with dreams, tarot cards, astrology and imagery in general (mythical)

  • seeing patterns, abstracting from the specific to the general, making meaning (our current mental-rational structure).

Time — recognising and accessing different qualities of time as appropriate (chronos, kairos, aion); sourcing from the present: we sense elements from future and past in the present because past and future are latent in the present. This is the presencing of time as an emergent phenomenon welling up from Origin.

Verition — ‘Seeing things as they really are’. We see this hallmark of Integral consciousness erupting in the public sphere as the call for and movement toward transparency. In the face of falsehood and confusion, truth becomes the touchstone, and naming the truth liberates the collective into the potential for coherent action (e.g. Extinction Rebellion). Similarly, with the current upsurging of awakening to race and privilege (Black Lives Matter) – we are seeing something we were previously blind to. It is becoming easier to sense in the body when something is ‘true’—as if a ‘truth sense’ is coming online. This is not an absolute-truth-for-all-time, but a this-is-what-is-in-this-moment that encompasses all-that-this-has-ever-been-until-now.

Navigating hyper-complexity — in contrast with the ‘predict and control’ approach favoured by mental-rational consciousness, Integral consciousness experiences both high presence and focus, mastery and surrender, holding the One and the Many simultaneously in a continual scanning, tracking, cultivating, weaving, sensing, realigning, balancing, letting go, letting come as needed in the present moment (as embedded in the local, global, cosmic context).

Beyond dualities (either/or) to integrated spectra — as part of this mutation of consciousness, our thought processes are starting to wrestle free of dualism. While we can still think in terms of spectra (a polarity with a range of gradations between two extremes), there is something happening in our embodiment as a species that is moving beyond dualism. An example is gender liquidity: people are identifying along a spectrum, rather than as either male or female. Similarly, One / Many is not a duality, when we understand that the ‘Many’ are within the ‘One’. It then becomes possible to take the perspective of either, as well as holding them both in consciousness as an integrated whole. The delineation between subject and object, too, is being released. Other such spectra include:

sovereigntyinterdependence — the mature individual is both grounded in the self and fully aware of their interdependence and embeddedness in all of life,

individualcollective — developing individual sovereignty allows the collective to come into its full potential,

structureflow — there are times when things need to solidify and times when they do not: structures can be released into flow whenever they no longer serve a generative purpose. We are seeking the minimal optimal structures that serve our purposes. Holding this as a collective practice dispenses with the need for ossified social structures in an ever-evolving universe,

darklight — holding, embodying and navigating the dark, the light and the greys in between, recognising the gifts of all of them: conscious embrace of Soul (dark/Underworld), Spirit (light/Higher Realms), and Waking Consciousness (Middle World).

Exploring Integral consciousness together

Getting to grips with this material is going to be a stretch, and yet this seems to be a salient aspect of how Collective Alchemy is called to service in the world today, as the Era Shift continues to unfold. We will continue to unpack Integral consciousness in our collective calls in future.

For now, as a final offering, here are some snippets from the harvest of the May 8th calls that feel like they hold the resonance of Integral consciousness.

Now we are in the sense
of reawakening to something
we are all connected to,
in the space between
the breakdown and the breakthrough.

Truth is an ongoing process
of willingness to live open
in the multifarious flow.

I notice the Witnessing in myself
Shifting consciousness to witnessing awareness,
while still seeing my dependency
on the very systems I want to change.

acute listening
into the moment.

My practice: holding the intention of truth,
allowing the body to discern
and recognising that awareness.

If I am attached to what I believe is true,
then I know that is not the truth.
That fragility is an indicator
that there is something there that I am not feeling.
When I hold true, it’s something
with lightness and love and wholeness
and 360° of my being,
there is something so powerful and generative
about that type of trueness
the complexity, all of it.
That kind of TRUE:
holds an alignment no words can describe.

Images of movement, dancing.
I have to surrender,
even to dissolve
into a next movement,
until I am received by another movement;
welcomed, curious what it will be.
Learn from it and then again dissolve.
What is true is to be relinquished in each moment,
to be found again afresh in the next.
When I allow myself to release
into the constant fluidity of surrender in every moment,
there is a beauty, an aliveness
in this instant if I dare to dissolve
into the next movement,
becoming the river.

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